Don’t Forget Your Napkin: My Review of The Eyes of The Dragon

Once upon a time, there was man known as Uncle Stevie.

Uncle Stevie liked to tell scary stories.

Simpsons SK

There were bad guys in Uncle Stevie’s stories.  Lots of bad guys.

In fact, he once told a story about a clown that killed children.

He told a story about a town that was invaded by vampires.

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He even told a story about a haunted hotel that tried to do bad things to a little boy with special talents.

But Uncle Stevie was not a bad man.  No, not at all.

In fact, Uncle Stevie had children of his own.  But those children could not read his stories, because they were children, after all.  Uncle Stevie did not know what to do.  He couldn’t scare his own children, but he wanted to write something they would like and not be scared of.  Uncle Stevie thought for a long time.

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One day, Uncle Stevie got an idea.  He decided to write a fairy tale of sorts, and dedicate it his daughter, Naomi.  Excited, Uncle Stevie got to work right away and wrote his new story.  It took him a long time, but he finally finished writing the story.

Uncle Stevie decided to call this new story The Eyes of the Dragon.  And his children were happy, since he finally wrote a story that they could read, and they liked it.

The story was actually sort of a fairy tale, although it was kind of long for a fairy tale.

But it read like a good fairy tale:  there were kings and queens.  And princes.  And even an evil sorcerer.  And the story took place in a magical land, far, far away.

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Although it was fairy tale, you could still tell that this story was written by Uncle Stevie.  There were some parts that were kind of scary, but not as scary.  And people did some bad things in the story, but never got punished like they would in a regular fairy tale.

In other words, The Eyes of the Dragon was a fairy tale, but you could tell it was written by the guy who writes scary stories.

And like Uncle Stevie’s other books, The Eyes of the Dragon would suck you right in to the land of princes and evil sorcerers, if you weren’t careful.  So kids liked it, and so did the grown-ups.

This nerdy grown-up decided she wanted to feel like a kid again.  So she read The Eyes of the Dragon this month.  Once again, she was captivated.  And enchanted.

Just like reading any other book written by Uncle Stevie.

So, here is her recap and review of The Eyes of the Dragon.  As always, watch out for the fierce beasts known as Spoilers!

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book introduces us to man named Roland.  Roland is the king of a land called Delain.  Roland is not hated in Delain, although he is not loved either.  Most people think that Roland is a competent king, and have no strong feelings towards him, one way or the other.

Roland is not a very bright man, and relies on the advice given to man by a man known as Flagg.  Flagg is Roland’s trusted adviser, and is also a man familiar with magic and its various uses.  There are many who do not quite trust Flagg, but no one dares to cross his path, as most people actually fear him.

At nearly 50 years old, Roland is still single, and this must be remedied, so that he can bear a son who will take over his royal duties one day.  Flagg introduces Roland to many women, and eventually, a woman named Sasha marries Roland.  Sasha is only 17 when she marries Roland, and is inexperienced in the ways of men.

Roland is also inexperienced in the ways of women, and has trouble bedding Sasha.  However, she becomes pregnant with the couple’s first child, Peter.  Peter is handsome and well liked, and takes after his mother.  Peter’s favorite toy is a dollhouse that was a gift to his mother.  The dollhouse is intricate and even has working parts, such as a small stove that heats up.  Peter spends hours playing with this dollhouse, making up fantastical stories to go along with it.  Peter also shows leadership skills at an early age, as he is able to exert his influence over people.  One day, Peter is able to prevent the unnecessary death of a horse.  Naturally, Flagg notices this and becomes uneasy.

Queen Sasha is well loved by the people of Delain, and is able to influence Roland when he makes certain decisions.  She also insists upon making sure that Peter is taught manners and etiquette.  Specifically, she makes sure that Peter uses his napkin, no matter the circumstances.  This is a lifelong habit that becomes ingrained in Peter.

Eventually, Sasha becomes pregnant with the couple’s second child, Thomas.  Flagg distrusts Sasha, and plots to kill her.  He is successful in accomplishing this when Thomas is born, as he convinces Sasha’s midwife to sever a vital artery, so that Sasha dies from blood loss.

As Peter grows older, Flagg distrusts him more and more.  He realizes that if Peter were to become King, Flagg may be vanquished from Delain.  After much thought, Flagg decides to kill King Roland and pin the death on Peter, so that Thomas will become King.  Thomas lives in the shadow of his brother, as he is not handsome and smart like Peter, but is more like his father.  Since Thomas is feeling neglected, this makes it easy for Flagg to exert his influence over Thomas.

One autumn night, Flagg poisons a glass of wine and gives it to King Roland, who drinks the wine, not suspecting that anything is amiss.  While this is happening, Thomas is spying on his father by peeking through the head of Niner, a dragon slain by his father on a hunting expedition.  Thomas feels that something is amiss, but does not say anything.

Flagg plants evidence in Peter’s room that will be found after his father’s death.  Roland does not show any signs of illness for a few days, but dies a sudden, painful death.

Shortly after the death of Roland, preparations are made for the coronation of Peter as king of Delain.  However, the preparations are halted after Dennis, the royal butler, finds the evidence planted by Flagg in Peter’s room.  Peter is then tried and convicted for the murder of his father, and Thomas is crowned king of Delain.

Thomas is reluctant, but accepts his new title, but feels guilty for his complacence in his father’s death and the false accusations against his brother.  In the meantime, Peter is imprisoned in a tower known as Needle.  His cell is several stories off the ground.

Within a week of his imprisonment, Peter makes two demands:  that his mother’s old dollhouse be brought to him, and that he receive a napkin with every meal.  Peter sends a message to Anders Penya, the Judge General of Delain, with this demand.  With the help of Ben Stadd, Peter’s best friend, Anders is able to grant these requests.

Ben Staad stands by Peter in claims of innocence, and refuses to to believe that his friend could have committed such as act.  Even Anders Penya, who had questioned Peter in regards to the murders, begins to have his doubts in regards to Peter’s guilt.

The dollhouse is finally delivered to Peter, and he begins receiving his napkins at each meal.  Peter then removes a few threads from each napkin, and begins to weave a rope using the miniature loom in the dollhouse.  It is painstaking work, but Peter is patient, and spends the next five years making this rope so that he may escape his prison.  Peter also finds an old locket and letter one day, and realizes that Flagg has been spreading  his evil throughout the kingdom of Delain for several centuries.

In the meantime, Thomas attempts to rule over Delain as king.  However, he is a very unpopular king, as he has raised taxes on the kingdom, due to advice from Flagg, whom he has become dependent on.  Thomas is very unhappy and moody, due to the fact that he is not ready for the responsibilities as king, and the guilt over his father’s death.

One night, Thomas sleep-walks to his secret hiding spot, and re-enacts the night of his father’s death in his sleep.  This is witnessed by Dennis, Thomas’ royal butler.  Dennis is badly frightened by what he sees, and begins to question King Roland’s death.

A few days later, Dennis pays a visit to Anders Peyna, and tells his tale.  Peyna becomes distressed, realizing that he has falsely imprisoned Peter, the true king of Delain.

The next morning, Peyna sends Dennis back to Delain, advising him to be careful.  Peyna then heads north to the camp of the exiles, where many have fled to escape the situation in Delain.  Peyna plans to seek the help of Ben Staad, Peter’s old friend.  The Staad family are among those who have fled Delain.

Since Dennis is able to read and write, Peyna tells him to send a note to Peter in secret.  Dennis writes the note, and hides it among the napkins, in the hope that the note will reach Peter.

Peyna also speaks to Ben Staad, and sends Ben back to the kingdom of Delain to help Peter.  Ben is accompanied by a woman named Naomi Reechul, who drives a sled pulled by Husky dogs.  With Naomi’s help, Ben reaches the former home of Peyna.  In order to track down Dennis, Naomi has Frisky, one of her dogs, track Dennis’ scent, in the hopes that they may find him.

In the meantime, Peter has finished weaving his rope and plans his escape from Needle.  However, he has second thoughts when he receives Dennis’ letter, which states that Peyna does not believe Peter is guilty of murder and was in fact wrongfully imprisoned.

Peter re-thinks his plans to escape the next night, and uses his blood to write a note to Dennis.  He bundles it in a napkin, in the hopes that Dennis will find it.

Dennis lurks outside The Needle and catches a glance of Peter.  He also finds the note, and decides that he will do anything to help Peter.

Ben and Naomi are able to track down Dennis, with the help of Frisky.  The three then exchange stories, and make plans to rescue Peter.

That night, Flagg finally realizes that Peter means to escape, and begins to head up the stairs of Needle, to Peter’s cell.  Peter hears Flagg coming, and using his rope, begins to make his escape.

As he is making his escape, Peter’s rope breaks.  However, his fall is cushioned by a pile of napkins, which were loaded into a cart by Ben, Naomi and Dennis.  Peter falls, but survives, much to the anger of Flagg.

Flagg then chases Peter and his friends to the former chambers of King Roland.  Flagg says that he will kill Peter.  Peter then confronts Flagg with the knowledge of the murder of his father, along with Flagg’s past evil deeds.

Thomas then appears, with his father’s bow and arrow.  Flagg believes Thomas to be the ghost of Roland, which makes him forget about his plans to murder Peter.  This allows Thomas to shoot Flagg with his father’s bow and arrow.  The arrow then hits Flagg in the eye.  After he is hit by the arrow, Flagg vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind.

After the confrontation with Flagg, Peter is acquitted of his father’s murder.  Peter invites Thomas to stay in Delain, but Thomas declines.  Instead, Thomas says that he will spend his life tracking down Flagg, so that he may avenge his father and brother.  Dennis offers to accompany Thomas, and Thomas gratefully accepts the offer.

Thomas leaves Delain, and it is not known if he ever returns, although he did have many strange adventures.  Peter continues to rule in Delain as king, and Ben and Naomi eventually get married.


My Thoughts

Well, I did say that I wanted a break from the scary stuff.

In other words, I needed a break from watching Indianapolis Colts football!

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

Haha, just joking!  Even though the Colts are frightening to watch at the moment, I will still be loyal to them!

But seriously, The Eyes of the Dragon though…

The Eyes of the Dragon is a fairy tale.  And it is a fairy tale written by the King of Horror.

And…wait for it…

It is actually a good fairy tale written by The Master!  Who knew?

Stephen King

Ok, it’s confession time…I hope all both  of the readers of this blog have some tolerance and don’t judge me…

For many years, I put off reading this book.  There was something that just did not sit right with me, in regards to this book.

In my little mind, Sai King was not supposed to write fantasy children’s stories (although this one does have some adult themes, more about that later.)  He was supposed to write about the scary hotels, rabid St. Bernards, possessed vehicles, cursed burial grounds and all those other things that have kept me up at night over the years.

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In other words, there was no room for princes, evil wizards and faraway kingdoms.  Absolutely not allowed!

Well, as one might say in another faraway land created by King, “I cry your pardon.”

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I finally read The Eyes of the Dragon a couple of years ago.  And I enjoyed it then.

And when I re-read it this year, I was again reminded of what I had missed out on, due to my obstinate nature.

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While The Eyes of the Dragon is not in my top 10 (too many others overshadow it), I still consider it to be one of King’s underrated gems.

And it even has tie-ins to some of my favorites, like The Dark Tower series.  And The Stand, which is one of my books of all time, period.

The Eyes of the Dragon could be considered to be a children’s tale.  And in many ways, it is. My parents read me fairy tales when I was child, and I was constantly reminded of those when I was reading this book.

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There is land that is far, far away, aka the kingdom of Delain.  King never specifies just where Delain is, but it is not on any map that exists in this world.

There are kings, queens and princesses.  King Roland, Queen Sasha and Prince Peter are almost “textbook” fairy tale characters if you will.  They are well loved by the people they rule over, and strive to the right thing.

And there is an evil wizard.  Flagg fits the bill of evil wizard perfectly:  he is a scheming, evil and ultimately prideful creature who does his best to wreak havoc wherever he goes (again, more about Flagg later.)

However, like almost all of King’s books, there is more than meets the eye (pun not intended) in The Eyes of the Dragon.

First of all, there is King Roland.  Now, I am not calling King Roland necessarily a bad guy, because he does try to do what is right.

However, King Roland is DEFINITELY not a bright man.  And time and time again, his actions remind of that fact.  Usually, it is the bad guys in fairy tales that are bumbling buffoons, not the good kings who want to do what is right.  But Roland is an exception in this book, and this actually makes the book more interesting, and adds a little depth to the story.

Then there is the character of Thomas, aka Thomas the Tax Bringer, whom I actually find to be one of King’s most fascinating characters.

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On the one hand, Thomas appears to be a bad dude.  When the narrator described how Thomas killed a dog because….well, just because, I immediately felt the need to go home and hug my dogs (luckily, they are the tolerant sort and don’t mind random hugs, unlike my cats, who revel in blood sport.)

But, on the other hand, I would agree with the narrator:  Thomas is not a bad boy.  Repeat:  Thomas is not a bad boy.

Now, Thomas may have done some pretty bad things.  Killing that dog, for instance.  And watching Flagg murder his father and not saying a word about that to anyone.

However, some of Thomas’ actions are understandable.

Thomas was basically screwed from the moment he came into existence.  When he was born, his mother died.  Even though that was not his fault, Thomas (and possibly others) blamed his birth on the death of his mother.  So he had to carry that guilt.

Then there is the fact that Thomas is the brother of Peter.  Growing up, it was my brother who had friends and was the musician.  I was just the awkward nerd that no one else noticed.  So of course, this created resentment with me, just as Thomas resented his brother, even though he did love Peter, as I love my brother.  Being in someone’s shadow and never being noticed for your accomplishments (and Thomas was actually a good archer) is difficult, and can be pretty depressing.  Thomas only wanted the approval of his father, and not getting it made him understandably upset.

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So, while some of Thomas’ actions were deplorable, at least they were understandable, given the context.  I don’t think that Thomas was an inherently evil character.  In fact, there is only one inherently evil character in this book.  We will talk about him in a bit.

One thing I love about The Eyes of the Dragon is that it is a fairy tale.  It tells of fantastical lands, kings and queens, magic, evil wizards and all that good stuff.

I also love that The Eyes of the Dragon is a Stephen King book.

So, Captain Obvious strikes again, right?

Well, let me explain a bit.

What I mean is that I love fantasy and fairy tales.  When I was a child, my parents had to constantly read to me from various books of fairy tales and fantasy stories, as they were my favorite.  We read Peter Pan.  We read the non- Disney version of Pinocchio (seriously, my parents wonder where my horror obsession comes from.  Read that one sometime.  It is far more disturbing than most “horror” stories.)

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So, I feel at home when I read those types of stories.  They are my bread butter, you might say.  George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey and Madeleine L’Engle are just a few of my favorite authors.  The land of fantasy is my home.

But, despite the fact that The Eyes of the Dragon appears to be a fairy tale, it was written by the King of Horror.  And throughout the book, we are constantly reminded of that fact.

For one, The Eyes of the Dragon has some gruesome deaths.  Gruesome deaths are Sai King’s bread and butter, after all.  The death of Queen Sasha definitely counts as gruesome, as a mid-wife used a knife to cut a vital organ so that Sasha would bleed to death.  Not only is this gruesome, this is also one of the most tragic deaths I have ever come across in any book.

Speaking of gruesome, there is the death of King Roland.  Roland is poisoned, but not with just any poison.  No, only “Dragonsand” would do for Roland.  This was a poison that burned someone from the inside out…shudder.

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Most fairy tales end on “happily ever after.”  The evil is defeated, and justice is somehow served.  However, this is not the case in regards to The Eyes of the Dragon.

For one, Flagg is not defeated.  Sure, he exits the kingdom of Delain, but he still alive!  And read to make mischief wherever he can.  Seriously, I wonder if he found the world of The Stand because he got evicted from Delain?  Seems legit, right?

There is also Thomas.  I did say that Thomas was not a bad guy.  But he was also complicit in the murder of his father and imprisonment of his brother.  However, Thomas never faces any consequences for his actions, and basically leaves the kingdom in shame, although he leaves under the guise of doing something noble, aka tracking down Flagg so that Flagg can answer for his actions (wish I could find out how that worked out, actually.)

In other words, Thomas did not get a happy ending.  The only one who really got a happy ending was Peter, and maybe his friend Ben.  And Peter probably spent years trying to clean up the mess made by Flagg and his brother, so I am really not sure how happy his ending really was.

Ok, I saved the best for last.

Or is it the worst for last?  Maybe best of the worst for last?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about that bad guy that we all love to hate…

Can I get a round of loud booing for…

None other than Randall Flagg himself!

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Now, Randall Flagg is ubiquitous in the Stephen King universe.

He shows up, in one way or another, in so many different books.  And he seems to be the equivalent of the cockroach in the King universe:  he just won’t go away!

Or perhaps the equivalent of Von Miller:  a one man (or maybe one demon) wrecking crew who is impossible to game plan for.  Instead of see “Miller, V,” we have see Flagg, R.

Flagg is perhaps most associated with the novel The Stand.  A world has been ravaged by the super flu and trying to rebuild itself.  Of course, with no help from Flagg, R.

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The Stephen King cockroach also makes several appearances in the Dark Tower series (both the books and the comics.)  In fact, he is part of the best opening line in history:  The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

(Again, see Flagg, R.)

And he is also a character in The Eyes of the Dragon.

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Out of all the different flavors of Flagg (kind of gross if you think of it that way, actually), I think that his character in The Eyes of the Dragon is my favorite flavor.  Not that I don’t think he’s great in all the other books, but there is just something about him in The Eyes of the Dragon that makes my heart go pitter-patter…

For one thing, he is pretty creative in this particular book.  I mean, a poison called Dragonsand?  Talk about a different, painful kind of death on the person you inflict it on!

He also has the old school, evil wizard feel to him in The Eyes of the Dragon.

He is crafty, cunning and enjoys evil for the sake of…well…evil.  There is no other way to put it.   We, as readers, tend to like to assign motivations to characters, to give them a reason for their actions.

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Well, there is no reason for Flagg’s actions in The Eyes of Dragon.  He is a bad guy who enjoys being a bad guy.  He does evil things because he likes it.  He only feels remorse when his plans fail and he is unable to unleash chaos  like he wants to.  He garners no sympathy from the reader.  In fact, the reader roots for him to die, and is disappointed when he doesn’t (one of the perks of being an evil wizard includes the ability to perpetually exist and stir up trouble everywhere, even breaking the inter-dimensional barrier.)

So it’s refreshing, actually.

Almost as refreshing as glass of wine that includes that extra touch of Dragonsand…


So, that’s it for The Eyes of the Dragon!

Join me next month as we return to the “real world…”

In other words, I will be reviewing and dissecting an oldie but goodie, otherwise known as The Shining.

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

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Connections

Although it takes place in the “faraway” land of Delain, there are indications that The Eyes of the Dragon is indeed a part of the Stephen King universe.  Here are some of the connections that I found:

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-The most obvious connection to King’s other books is the character of Randall Flagg.  Flagg appears in several other King works, including The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Wastelands, The Wind Through the Keyhole and even in the title story of the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Flagg apparently possesses the ability to travel to other worlds, and can perhaps even travel through time.

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In The Drawing of the Three, Roland speaks of an encounter with Thomas and Dennis, while they are on a quest to find Flagg.  It is not known if Thomas and Dennis are ever able to confront Flagg and force him to answer for his crimes against Delain.  In fact, it is doubtful if their quest was ever successful, and it is more likely that this quest eventually results in the deaths of both Thomas and Dennis.

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-King Roland shares a first name with with Roland Deschain, the main character in King’s Dark Tower series.  However, this is all the two share, as Roland Deschain is clever and skilled, unlike his Delain counterpart.

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-Peter’s time in The Needle can be said to be similar to Andy Dufresne’s imprisonment in Shawshank State Prison in the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (part of the collection Different Seasons), as Andy was also imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit.  Like Peter, Andy Dufresne also spent years devising and ingenious escape plan, under the noses of his captors.

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-Randall Flagg owns a two-headed parrot.  Parkus, the man responsible for law and order in the Territories in the novels Black House and The Talisman, also owns a similar creature.  It is unknown if these creatures are one in the same, or merely just similar.

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-Mention is made of Rhea of the Coos.  Rhea is a major character in the novel Wizard and Glass, as well as The Dark Tower comics.

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11 Reasons to Love Stranger Things

So, it’s summertime.

Not only is it hot, but the offerings on television are a bit scant, so to speak.

The Green Arrow, The Flash and my man Jim Gordon are all on summer vacation, I suppose.

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Although, really, I was craving a dose of the 80’s.

But The Goldbergs are also on vacation.  And I needed something new and fresh, and none of the 80’s movies or TV shows in my collection were cutting it!

But luckily, Netflix decided to oblige me…

I heard that there was new show out.  It could satisfy that 80’s craving…check.

I’m a huge fan of horror and it was scary…check.

It paid homage to some writer guy I am obsessed with…check.

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Oh, and it was actually well-acted and directed…check.

In other words, I am referring to the Netflix show known as Stranger Things.

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Yes, I jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon!

No I didn’t get a t-shirt, but it was one hell (or is it upside down?) of a ride!

Now, I didn’t binge.  Despite my love for this show, it still is a fine wine that needed to be savored.

So I forced myself to slow down.

In other words, I finished watching the show in about a week.  And I still felt that I rushed it a bit, since there was so much good stuff to savor!

Like the 80’s aspect of it…nostalgia rules!

The Stephen King references…The Master himself even earned a direct reference…but I know he won’t let the fame get to his head!

SK give me what I won

And this show was scary…I had to hide my eyes and grip my poor dog really hard watching some parts…good thing dogs are tolerant of their human slaves, even when the human slaves are watching scary stuff on TV!

In other words, there are so many reasons to love Stranger Things.  The show really does have a little something for everyone, and is so well done.

So, I deemed this show worthy of a post on this little old blog.  And I narrowed down the number of reasons to love this show…

Wait for it…

Eleven!

(See what I did there?  You are welcome!)

So, here is my list of 11 reasons as to why Stranger Things is an awesome show.  It may be a bit redundant in parts, but I feel each reason earned its place on the list and is worthy of discussion.

Time to break down and discuss this show, so buckle in for the ride!

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


It is scary

Some of you may be scratching your heads, and wondering if Captain Obvious has taken over this blog.  And I don’t begrudge you for that thought.  After all, this show is billed as being in the horror category, so of course it’s scary, right?

Well, not necessarily.  Both the big and small screen are filled with all kinds of abominations these days that call themselves horror.  And when I refer to them as abominations, that does not necessarily mean they are the good kind of abomination…

So, let’s break it down and discuss it.

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When I watched Stranger Things, I felt warm and fuzzy at times.  After all, nostalgia, right?  And I laughed.  I mean who wouldn’t laugh?  After all, Dustin’s antics, floating Eggo waffles and Steve’s hair…all of those are pretty chuckle-worthy, in my opinion.

And, as quickly as I felt the warm and fuzzy, or went into a mad fit of giggling over a Dustin one-liner, I found myself holding on to my dog for dear life (like I said, she’s tolerant) and trying not to be scared into a change of pants.  The show was that effective.

First of all, there was the concept of the Upside Down.  An alternate dimension that sucks in a little kid. forcing him to communicate using Christmas lights?  One of man’s greatest fears is the fear of the unknown.  And an alternate dimension fits that category perfectly, as that would be one of the few frontiers left.

Nancy is briefly sucked into that alternate dimension, and seeing it through her eyes was just frightening.  No wonder she needed a little company that night.  I don’t think I would ever sleep again!

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There is also The Monster.  Although the politically correct name for him (it?) is Mr. Tulip-Head.  So I shall refer to him by his proper name in this post, so no tentacles are ruffled!

And Mr. Tulip-Head is not one to be trifled with, yo!

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Not only is he an extra-dimensional monster that is a predator (you could say that the town of Hawkins was his haunt, as in haunt meaning a place where animals feed), he seems to force slug-like creatures down people’s throats, in an attempt to either kill them, or perhaps an attempt to reproduce…

I tell you, if Will has a mini Mr. Tulip-Head come busting out of him, per the infamous scene in the movie Alien…well, I won’t be surprised at all!  And you can say you heard it here first!

Did anyone else think sushi when Will puked up that tentacle, by the way?

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Ok, so that was just me then…

Well, nevermind, I guess…


It is Nerd Heaven

From the opening scene of Stranger Things, the tone is set.  The audience realizes that it will be treated to a…

Nerd fest!

I know, something nerdy making it on to this blog?  Can you imagine!?

At the beginning of the first episode, the boys are playing Dungeons and Dragons.  And using all the technical terms, like Demi-Gorgon.  And trust me folks, it only gets nerdier.

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Obviously, we have Mike, Will and the rest of the gang.  Right from the beginning, the writers of the show let us know that they are the nerds among their peer group.  This title includes the good grades, unusual hobbies (D&D and membership in the audio-visual club), and the other, not positive attributes of nerdiness, such as the empty social calendar and merciless bullying.

Not only is D&D present throughout the series (as a useful metaphor, no doubt), there are so many little details that made my nerdy heart go pitter-patter.

We have the teacher that has a hot date with a pretty girl explaining the special effects in a horror movie.  Who needs brawn and muscles when you have a guy that can give a technical break down of the special effects in a scary movie to put your mind at ease?

There is the sensory deprivation chamber.  I loved how the boys, Hop and Joyce speculated on how to create one, and then hit upon the idea of using salt water.  It added some credibility to the series, although I think I will skip making one in an attempt to visit another dimension, as this one without Mr. Tulip-head is just fine, thank you!

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I also loved it when the guys talked to the science teacher (the same expert on special effects in movies), about the existence of other dimension, and how to access those dimensions.  As a teenager, I read tons of books on physics, along with science fiction and fantasy novels covering that same topic (A Wrinkle in Time is a favorite of mine) and it is a subject of endless fascination for me, even in adulthood.  So to see it addressed on this show (the analogy with the acrobat and flea on the tightrope is an excellent) gave me goosebumps.  And goosebumps of the good variety.

If I actually had a friend group as a child, I hope that group would have contained a Dustin, a Mike, a Will and a Lucas.  After all, nerd power!


It has strong feminist leanings

If you haven’t, take the time to watch movies like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween.  If you watch carefully, these movies follow a formula.

The formula looks something like this:  a scary monster (or serial killer) is on the loose, somehow.  There are all kinds of hints, but both the teenagers and adults ignore the warning signs.  The teenagers are left to their own devices.  In other words, teenagers of the opposite sex gather together, and “own devices” turns out to mean “having sex.”  So most of the teens pair off, and conveniently find fully furnished bedrooms.  And then they have sex.  Well, except for a couple of virtuous kids, who are either uncomfortable with the idea of dating before marriage, or the nerdy guy (or girl, but usually a guy) who is rejected by the beautiful member of the opposite sex for either the jock or cheerleader.

Apparently, nothing angers a movie villain more than sexually active teenagers.  And the kinkiness of the sex involved is directly proportional to how quickly (and even how gruesomely) the teenagers get dispatched.  It is then up to the virtuous guy or girl to face the killer, and defeat the killer, who just won’t stay dead, even after being riddled with a large number of bullets that would take down any non horror movie villain.

Or something like that, at any rate.  Formulaic, in other words.

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Now, Stranger Things may be a tribute to the 80’s and all things horror, but one thing it is not is formulaic.  This includes its treatment of the teenage girl.  In fact, Stranger Things stands the formula on its head, and can be argued to make a strong feminist statement by doing so.

So a Netflix series dealing with extra-dimensional monster, with shades of The Goonies and Stand By Me has (gasp) feminist leanings?  Have this blogger lost her mind?

Well, no.  Although my friends and family may argue otherwise, but you can’t miss what you never had, right?

And yes, Stranger Things does make a strong feminist statement, and here’s why.

Nancy becomes involved with Steve, and sneaks out to a party, lying to her parents and convincing poor Barb to cover for her.  Pretty typical teen behavior, in other words.

Not surprisingly, Nancy and Steve have sex.  The other couple at the party has sex.  And poor Barb is left to her own devices.

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Standard horror fare, in other words.

But then, we veer away from the standard horror.  Nancy survives her first time, although Steve behaves in a pretty boorish manner (in other words, a teenage boy.)  Barb, however, does not survive that night, as she is attacked by Mr. Tulip-Head.  Apparently, Mr. Tulip-Head did not get the memo from Jason or Michael Myers, and does not attack the teenagers engaged in premarital sex.  Rather, he behaves like a typical predator, and attacks the isolated member of the herd, aka Barb.

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It takes a bit, but Nancy realizes that Barb is missing.  She confesses her lie to her mother and speaks to the police, naturally leaving out that she and Steve had sex that night.  I mean, it’s not like her sex life is anybody’s business but hers, right?

Furthermore, Nancy lets her mother know this, in no uncertain terms.  Yes, she had sex and Barb is now missing.  But the two are NOT related, nor should they be seen as related.  Because, you know, becoming sexually active and an extra-dimensional monster that had been unleashed due to the irresponsible actions of a shady operation in town are NOT related, so let’s focus on the important thing here:  now two children are missing, and maybe our town is in danger, so let’s do something before more people turn up missing?

BOOM!

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Who knew?!

In other words, quit punishing women for being sexual!  Being sexual should not lead to death!  And a women’s sex life is no one’s business but her own!  Yeah, go Stranger Things!

Plus, Nancy kicks ass anyway.  She threw down some serious shade against Mr. Tulip-Head, and they boys just kind of followed her lead.

In other words, I can’t give Nancy enough love.


It is 80’s heaven

And let me count the ways…

Where do I even start?  This show just has so much 80’s…

We have the decor in the houses.  Someone took some great care to make sure that the houses looked like something you would see back in 1983, from the wall paper down to the carpeting.  So there’s that.

We get 80’s music.  The Clash?  How much more 80’s can you get?

And movie references.  Don’t forget those.  Joyce surprising Will with tickets to go see Poltergeist.  And then Will disappearing, in much the same manner as Carol Anne Freeling.  It’s true that Joyce developed an obsession with all things electronic and not the TV, but the concept is still the same.

I saw elements of The Goonies and Stand by Me.  In fact, the story arc of Mike and his friends is kind of similar to these two movies:  plucky misfit kids have a crazy adventure together and test their friendship in the process.  Well, just add in extra-dimensional monsters and shady government operatives.  But still not too far off.

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The television that happened to be playing an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe…squee!

Throw in a little John Hughes as well.  The girl must choose between two guys:  one is kind of a lovable meathead, and the other is artistic and introspective, and the sworn enemy of the aforementioned meathead…

Then there is the character of Hop, who had a kind of Indiana Jones vibe…swoon…

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So much nostalgia.

I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s (I am 38, for all you nosy folk), and when I watched Stranger Things, I was (at least momentarily), transported back to my childhood, and was reminded of a time in my life when things were a little less complicated.

And no, I am not looking back with rose-colored glasses.  That’s 3 D glasses I am using, thank you very much!

Now excuse me, I have to go find some leggings that coordinate with my banana clip…battling extra-dimensional monsters will just have to wait!


The nods to different types of horror

Well, we just talked about how the show is scary.  So of course, since it is a show in the horror category, right?

Captain obvious strikes again!

Actually, this reason is more in regards to the fact of how the show paid homage to so many different types of horror.

First of all, we have the 1980’s horror aspect.  When I watched, I was reminded of all the 80’s classics:  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the Halloween movies.  Those movies had teenagers or young adults as their protagonists, just like Stranger Things.

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One of the main points of the show was the fear of the unknown.  Again, I was reminded of John Carpenter (The Thing.)  The premise of The Thing is a life form that is not understood, just like Mr. Tulip-Head in Stranger Things.  That creature is definitely not understood, nor would understanding be a good thing (although it may result in one being forced to ingest slugs.)

I was also reminded of the movie Alien, which (again) deals with the fear of the unknown.  And has a strong female protagonist.  Nancy and Ellen Riply…now that would be a dangerous combo!

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And I was also reminded of H.P. Lovecraft

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Yes, a show that is a mix of Stephen King’s It and The Goonies also has some nods to Lovecraft…who knew?

The fear of the unknown and creatures not of this world is a pretty common theme in most all  Lovecraft stories.  The Dunwich Horror and The Colour Out of Space are good examples of this.

The idea that Will had been touched by the unknown (after he pukes up a slug and seems to be back in the Upside-Down momentarily) and forever changed is also something that is distinctively Lovecraftian.  One of the running themes in Lovecraft’s stories is that knowledge is not necessarily always a good thing, and Will experiencing life in another dimension was not necessarily a good thing.  In fact, I think that experience will have some pretty severe repercussions, but only time (and a second season) will tell.

In fact, I found the end of this season to be pretty unsettling, as the camera shots and the shots of the stars in the sky seemed to imply that someone (or something) had its eye on Will, his friends, Nancy, Jonathan and the whole town of Hawkins, Indiana.  And that someone or something was not friendly.  Not friendly at all.


It is a HUGE homage to Stephen King

While we are on the subject of horror and scary things…

This reason may be a bit redundant.

After all, Stephen King is a horror writer.  And he is scary.  He is even tied into the 1980’s (It, Pet Sematary, Cujo and Firestarter are all 80’s books.) He even ties into the feminist part, since he is also capable of writing strong female characters.

But, he is The Master.  And The Master deserves his own entry.  Not to mention the fact that there are aspects to this show that are distinctly Stephen King.

Stephen King

We do have one character specifically asking another character if she has read a Stephen King book.  Hey, if you are going to drop a bunch of King Easter eggs, you may as well admit it, right?

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The fact that Eleven’s mother was drugged in order to enhance latent PSI abilities is a direct reference to the book (and movie) Firestarter.  In Firestarter, a man and woman are drugged as part of an experiment.  The man and woman fall in love, marry and have a child.  The child is gifted (or perhaps cursed) with the ability to start fires with her mind.  This is similar to Eleven’s situation, in that her mother was drugged, and then gave birth to a child with PSI abilities (aka Eleven.)

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Plus, I am pretty sure that Hawkins Laboratory is actually an operative of The Shop

People, especially children, with extraordinary abilities, are a major theme in King’s work.  The Shining, Carrie, Everything’s Eventual, Dr. Sleep and Firestarter are just some examples.  In fact, in the Dark Tower series, people with these abilities even have a name:  Breakers.  And Eleven definitely classifies as a Breaker.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell the Low Men!

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Traveling between realities is also a huge theme in King’s work.  In fact, this also has a specific name: going Todash.  And the space in between realities is called the Todash space, and monsters lurk in the Todash space.  When Eleven was in the blackness and first encountered that monster…I would say that was a pretty good representation of Todash space!

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In King’s books, there are doors that lead to realities.  They are known as “thinnies,” and allow travel to different worlds and even different time periods.  Eleven was able to use her PSI abilities to make one of these doors.  And, as far as we know, that door still exists at Hawkins Laboratory, with the potential for more creatures (The Mist comes to mind) to cross over to the Stranger Things level of The Tower

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Yeah, I said it.  I gave Stranger Things its own level on The Dark Tower.  So if Roland and his ka-tet, or perhaps Danny Torrance, end up employing the services of a certain girl with a fondness for Eggo waffles…well, you heard it from me first, folks!


It gives an honest portrayal of small town life

I am someone who grew up in a small town, so I feel qualified to write about this topic.  And it is something that has come up in many a blog post, mainly in the Stephen King related posts, as small towns are as vital to a Stephen King novel as kids with PSI abilities, homicidal clowns and rabid St. Bernards.

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I have discovered that the only people who really understand the small town are those who have spent time in the small town (like Stephen King, obviously.)

You have one extreme that sees the environment as charming, quaint, maybe even bucolic.  Can kids really go missing in a small town?  You can leave your doors unlocked, right?  The locals are charming!

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Then, there is the other extreme:  people who see the small town populated by the likes of the Peacock family, with no access to modern technology (what plumbing?) and just a general ignorance of the outside world, period.

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The truth is that small towns are complex.  Stephen King hits on this in books like Needful Things, It, ‘Salem’s Lot and many, many others.  Stranger Things also hits on this, and in only eight episodes.  I am sure that this theme will be discussed more in (hopefully) upcoming seasons as well.

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On the the one hand, there is a sense of community in a town like Hawkins, Indiana.  People rally together to comfort Joyce and help search for Will when it is believed that he is still alive.  People are at ease with each other, because if they don’t know you, they probably went to school with one of your parents.  Or worked with your best friend at the local factory.

But small towns have a sense of ugliness about them too.  I can personally testify to this.  And Mike and his friends can as well.  The bullies hurl a racial slur at Lucas early on.  Steve is able to spread rumors and ruin Nancy’s “reputation” fairly quickly.  The lack of concern for Barb after she disappears is downright disturbing.  People quickly assume that Barb is a runaway, and no effort is made on her behalf.  And that is part of small town life:  the people in the town do not want to believe that something may be amiss, and will try to cover it up.

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So how long have the inhabitants of Hawkins Laboratory suspected, at least somewhere deep down, that something was amiss in their town?  Obviously, Dr. Brenner (who will be referred to in this blog as Dr. Pedophile, due to his disgusting nature) has been performing unethical experiments for a long time.  At the very least, these experiments produced poor Eleven, and a woman in a vegetative state (likely the mother of Eleven.)

But Eleven is the 11th.  The 11th of what?  Are there others like her?  If so, what happened to them?  And what do the people living in the town know?  What other skeletons will emerge?

The show has been renewed for a second season, so I am sure we will be finding out a lot more about Hawkins, Indiana, and its secrets.


Dustin

Now, all of the characters are fabulous.  Let me just get that out there, less I ruffle the tentacles of Mr. Tulip-Head, and any other monsters that resemble flora gone terribly wrong!

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Along with Old Tulip-Head, I have much love for the characters in this show.  Even the bad guys, like Dr. Pedophile.  They are well drawn-out and believable, even when they are behaving in ways that may make one scratch his or her head (talking to you, Sheriff Hop.)

But there is one character that deserves his own entry.

So, without any further ado…let me introduce Dustin!

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And if you don’t love Dustin, then you are definitely in the same category as people who kick puppies and listen to Nickelback!

Ok, I may be joking.  About the kicking puppies bit, anyway.

On the surface, Dustin is lovable.  Actually, everything about him is lovable, from his love of chocolate pudding, to his smile and even that speech impediment!

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But, there is much more to Dustin than his ability to track down chocolate pudding and that charming smile of his.

Dustin is the glue that holds his group of friends together.  It is true that Mike is the brains, and Lucas is a fighter.

However, if it weren’t for Dustin, the group may have fallen apart.  Mike and Lucas were constantly at odds with each other, especially when Eleven was added to the fold.  In fact, things got physical, and Lucas was thrown in the air by Eleven for his troubles.

But due to Dustin’s insightful nature (he did understand that he could not have the same place in Mike’s life, because he didn’t come into it until fourth grade), Lucas and Mike were able to come to an agreement and reconcile.  Dustin played the mediator, getting each side to compromise with each other, so that they did not compromise their mission:  saving Will from what was literally Hell.

Dustin has been compared to Vern Tessio, a character in the movie Stand By Me.  Superficially, there is something to that, as both Vern and Dustin provide comic relief and are the easy going friends who try to keep the peace.

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But as a wise man pointed out:  Dustin would never forget where he left his pennies.

BOOM!

This is Dustin.  He’s our friend and essential to keeping us from killing each other so that we don’t leave our other friend some place that is not on any map!

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The friendships

Much of Stranger Things is about friendships, and the relationships the characters have with each other.

Obviously, we have Mike, Will, Lucas and Dustin.  The OF, or Original Friendship, if you will.  When Will goes missing, Mike will stop at nothing to find Will so that his group can be whole again.

Then, there is Eleven.  Mike and Eleven seem to bond immediately, and Eleven slowly becomes something more than a human flashlight to Mike, even though he is still desperate to find his missing friend.

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In fact, it could be argued that Eleven’s presence makes all the boys better people, although this is especially true for Mike, whose relationship with Eleven opens his eyes, and causes him to grow up a little.

We also have Nancy and Barb.  Barb starts off as Nancy’s friend who is willing to do anything for her, including lying to her parents so that she can sneak out and spend time with Steven.  However, Barb disappears into the Upside-Down, a seeming victim of the Mr. Tulip-Head.  Like Will, Nancy is forced to grow up, as she searches for Barb, and encounters the callous reaction of law enforcement and even her parents, who refuse to believe that Barb is anything other than a teenage runaway.

There is the relationship between Nancy and Jonathan.  Jonathan is frantically searching for his brother, and Nancy is frantically searching for her friend.  The two bond in their mutual tragedy and work together to defeat the evil that is trying to destroy their town.  Nancy develops a respect for Jonathan, viewing him as a person, rather than the “weird kid” that her peers see him as.  Jonathan also develops a respect for Nancy, and seems to feel something more than friendship for her, even though Nancy reconciles with Steve.

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Steve also bonds with Jonathan, and seems to genuinely feel remorse for the bullying.  However, that friendship seems to be tentative at best, given that both men have feelings for Nancy.

In other words, people had “frenemies,” even back in the ancient times!


It tackles taboo topics

It is no secret that horror and “taboo” topics are linked.  Almost every horror movie features sex of some kind (Friday the 13th and its approximately 725 sequels are a great example of this.)  Candyman is another movie that deals with taboo topics, because it addresses racism.

And don’t even get me started on Stephen King, The King of Taboo Topics (pun intended.)  King books run the gamut, from domestic violence, to bullying, to substance abuse and even to the death of a child.  When “real-world” issues are included alongside the supernatural ones, the the story becomes that much more believable.

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Stranger Things is no different, in that it also deals with taboo topics.  The show begins with every parent’s worst nightmare:  the disappearance of a child.  And it only gets more taboo from there.

Early on in the series, we witness the bullying that Mike and his friends endure.  Lucas is treated to a racial epithet.  Dustin is harassed due to his speech impediment.  And it gets worse, as the bullies make some disparaging remarks about Will’s supposed death, when they are supposed to be mourning the loss of their classmate.

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Mike is not the only character who experiences bullying.  Jonathan is also harassed for being different, and this harassment is experienced at the hands of Steve.  Steve is also insensitive to the disappearance of Will, and to the disappearance of Barb, the best friend of the girl he claims to love.

We have the character of Sheriff Hopper.  Hop’s character is a walking bundle of taboos, actually.

First of all, Hop is a substance abuser.  He is an alcoholic, much like Jack Torrance in The Shining.  Not surprisingly, he is also a womanizer, using sex and alcohol to escape his demons.

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Hop has also experienced the ultimate tragedy:  he has lost a child.  Not surprisingly, this experience has shaped him into the man that he is.  The loss cost him his marriage, and his ex wife has moved on and started a new family.  Hop attempts to do this, but struggles mightily.  However, when he meets Eleven and spends time in the Upside Down so that he can rescue Will, Hop is able to begin healing.  It could even be said that Will and Eleven are surrogate children of Hop.

Often, subjects are “taboo” and therefore frightening because we choose to keep them in the dark.  But when the light is turned on, the monsters are no longer as formidable as they once were.


Now, I know that I said I had made this list with no particular order in mind.  But, like Maury Povich might say, this post has determined that to be a lie!

There is one aspect of Stranger Things that deserves her own entry, and should be in the spotlight, at least for a minute.

I mean, after all, it would be an Upside Down kind of logic if I didn’t pay her homage, right?

So, without any further ado…

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Here is my favorite thing about Stranger Things!


Eleven

Yes, in case you have not figured it out, I am talking about our favorite telekinetic, Eggo waffle loving, mouth breather hater with a cute buzz cut adolescent, aka Eleven!

Eleven is bad ass.  I can’t think of any other way to put it.

She is here to kick ass and eat Eggo waffles, and she’s almost out of waffles!

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In all seriousness, I just love Eleven.  How can you not?  People who hate Eleven are like people that listen to Nickelback!

Eleven is one tough chick.

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She started out as an experiment.  She doesn’t know her real parents.  The only parental figure that she’s ever known is a creepy scientist, known as Dr. Pedophile for the purposes of this blog.

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And to Dr. Pedophile, she is nothing but his lab experiment, to be used as how he sees fit.  And he uses her to open gateways that should never be opened, and to explore what should remain unknown.  When she escapes, his concern is not for her as a person, but as his test subject that someone else may access.

Eleven is forced to face things that would frighten people three times her age to death.  Yet, she somehow does it, in the name of helping a boy that she has never met.

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She is also fiercely loyal to her friends, although she has only known Mike, Lucas and Dustin for a short time.  She makes the bully pee his pants…that is true friendship right there!

Even though Eleven has been raised in a lab, she still manages to exhibit the most humanity of anyone on the show.  Nearly everyone on the show has an agenda:  Mike and his friends want to find Will, Hop wants to expose Hawkins Laboratory, Nancy is looking for revenge for Barb.  But not Eleven.  The only thing Eleven is looking for (besides waffles) is love and acceptance.  And she does manage to find that, if only for a short time.

However, Eleven’s happiness is tragically cut short, when she makes the ultimate sacrifice:  she battles an extra-dimensional monster, and seemingly sacrifices herself so that her friends may live.

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Often, bad ass can come in small packages.  And Eleven is a lot of bad ass in one small package.  But sometimes, small packages have the most give, just like Eleven.


So, there you have it.  Eleven reasons why I love Stranger Things.  Sure, maybe I missed a few, but I think I got most of them.  Hopefully, I don’t incur the ire of Mr. Tulip-Head and his merry band of slugs1

This is Stranger Things.  Its my show and it’s crazy…crazy awesome, that it is!

So, if you haven’t watched this show, I have given you eleven reasons to make sure that Netflix subscription is up to date…

So flop down on your couch, and prepare for one epic binge session!

Happy watching!

Shit Weasels and Seeing the Line: My Review of Dreamcatcher

My name is Leah and I have a confession to make.

No, not the nerd thing…you knew that!

Here goes nothing…

Gulp, I confess that…

I can’t stay away from Derry, Maine!

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Yes, I know that particular town has its issues, and that I probably cannot fix those issues, even though it is my nature to try and fix things.

Yes, the presence of a certain homicidal clown is constantly felt, despite the fact that there were brave folks who tried to put that clown to bed (or is it Hell?)

I know that Derry attracts its share of…well…the unusual (and that’s putting it mildly.)

But still, I can’t stay away.  I guess I just fall for bad…um…towns (not sure if fictional towns have a gender, so roll with me.)

Yes, I am talking about a fictional town in a Stephen King book…

Stephen King mit Katze "Clovis", tierischer Held des Films "Schlafwandler". Der Meister des Horrors wird am Sonntag (21.09.1997) 50 Jahre. Mit 50 hat er mehr als 30 Romane veröffentlicht, ein Sachbuch, fünf Geschichtensammlungen und neun Drehbücher. dpa (zu dpa-Korr vom 17.09.1997) nur s/w

I know, a Stephen King!  Just humor me and pretend you are at least a little surprised, eh?

And obviously, The Master has a fetish for evil towns…

I mean, he keeps coming back to Derry, right?  So that means its only sorta bad, right?

Well, as my aunt used to say:  Leopards don’t change their spots!

The homicidal clown may have been sent to whatever Hell (or other ungodly realm) from whence It came, but that doesn’t mean that Derry is on the straight and narrow now.

Nope, not at all!

Luckily, Uncle Stevie realized that there were many more stories to tell about Derry, so he decided to tell them (duh.)

And the novel Dreamcatcher is one of those stories.

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NYX

Dreamcatcher is an interesting mashup, so to speak.

On the one hand, it is a story about childhood and the friends we make as children (similar to It.)

On the other hand, it is also a science fiction novel, with elements of horror.  Shit weasels, anyone?

So, with that being said, let’s take a trip back to Derry…

Hopefully, you see the line…

And, as always:

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Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction of four men:  Henry, Pete, Jonesy and Beaver.  The four men have been friends since childhood, and are still friends in the present day.  However, it is clear that the men are not ordinary, as all four seem to possess telepathic powers, which they usually use to accomplish every day tasks, such as finding lost car keys.  A fifth friend by the name of Douglas is mentioned, but it seems that the men have fallen out of touch with Douglas.  Once a year, all four friends gather at a cabin in the woods they call Hole in the Wall, where they go hunting and reminisce about their childhood.

One spring, Jonesy is hit by a car while crossing the street.  The accident is almost fatal, but Jonesy is able to to make enough of a recovery by winter, and is still able to take his annual vacation with his friends.

The trip to Hole in the Wall starts off ordinarily enough, but things quickly become strange.  One morning, Pete and Henry head to the grocery store to pick up supplies, while Beaver also heads out on an errand.  Jonesy is left alone at the cabin, where he almost shoots what he first thinks to be a deer.  However, Jonesy quickly discovers that his target is not a deer, but a man named Rick McCarthy.  It turns out that Rick became lost in the woods, and has found his way to Hole in the Wall.  Jonesy takes the stranger in, offering him food and shelter.

Jonesy then finds out that Rick is no ordinary lost traveler.  Rick appears to have traveled 50 miles in the course of what he believes to be one day, and Jonesy later finds out that Rick thinks that the date is the date three days prior.  Rick is also missing several teeth, and does not appear to notice that he is missing these teeth.  Additionally, Rick appears to be extremely flatulent, and his burps and farts have an unusual smell.

Beaver returns, and Jonesy offers Rick the spare bedroom so he can get some rest.  After Rick retires, Jonesy and Beaver discuss what to do about their guest, and agree that they need to get help for him, and quickly.

In the meantime, Henry and Pete are driving back to the cabin from the grocery store.  We learn that Henry has been suffering depression, and is considering suicide.  The men also discuss some rumors heard at the grocery store, which include stories about missing hunters and bright lights in the sky.  However, the talk is interrupted when Henry swerves to avoid hitting a woman standing in the middle of the road, which causes the vehicle to crash, due to the serious weather conditions.

Pete and Henry survive the accident, although Pete is seriously injured and his leg is likely broken.  Pete and Henry try to speak to the woman they narrowly missed hitting, but the woman appears to be almost comatose, although she does inquire about someone named Rick.  And like Rick, she also suffers from extreme flatulence accompanied by an unusual odor.

As Henry attempts to help the woman, he and Pete see strange lights in the sky.  The woman becomes hysterical, crying “they’re back.”  Finally, Henry is able to call her down, and the three head off to find some sort of shelter from the impending blizzard.  However, the woman collapses, and Henry is forced to carry her to shelter.  While they are walking to shelter, Pete and Henry begin to discuss a fifth childhood friend, whom they refer to as “Duddits.”  Duddits was afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, and the men have been thinking a lot about Duddits recently, for some reason.

Back at the cabin, Jonesy and Beaver play cards and wait for Henry and Pete to return.  Their game is interrupted when Beaver steps outside, and notices what appears to be a large group of forest animals in mass exodus from the forest, along with strange lights.  Things become stranger when they return to the cabin, and notice that Rick is no longer in bed.  They also notice blood on the way to the bathroom, and discover that Rick is in the bathroom and in distress.

Outside, there are helicopters in the sky.  Beaver tries to signal for help, but is told that the area is under quarantine, and that the situation will be resolved in 24-48 hours.

Henry attempts to walk back to Hole in the Wall to seek help.  He leaves Pete with the woman they found on the side of the road.  They believe the woman’s name to be Becky, although they are not entirely sure of that fact.  Even though Pete is responsible for watching Becky, he decides to head back to the vehicle to retrieve the beer he purchased earlier.  Both men begin to recall they day they met their friend Douglas Cavill, or Duddits, many years ago.

One day, when all four boys were in junior high, they walk home together from school.  There is nothing unusual about the day, and the boys talk about the usual things that junior high boys talk about.  However, their talk is interrupted when they hear the heartbreaking sounds of someone crying.

The boys find the source of the crying:  a young man who is obviously mentally handicapped and being bullied by some of the students who attend the local high school.  One of the bullies is Richie Grenedeau, who had played quarterback for the high school football team, but was allegedly removed from the position due to injury.  The boys become angered by the bullying, and resolve to stand up for the young man.

Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver take a stand against Richie Grenedeau and his friends, and the bullies back off.  The four boys learn the name of the young man they rescued from the bullying:  Douglas Cavill, who is nicknamed Duddits.  Duddits is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome and attends a nearby special school.  The boys return Duddits to his home and parents, and a friendship is begun.  Nearly every day, for the remainder of their school years, the boys accompany Duddits on his walk to and from school, to protect him from the bullies.  They also spend time with Duddits, and include him in their activities whenever possible.  However, Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver grow up, and become distanced from Duddits, who remains a perpetual child.

The story flashes back to the present.  Jonesy and Beaver break down the door to the bathroom, and discover that McCarthy has fallen into the bathtub.  McCarthy is now dead, with a large hole in his backside.  There also appears to be something living in the toilet that has exited McCarthy.  Beaver immediately sits down on the toilet to trap the creature, and Jonesy goes to look for tape in an attempt to contain the creature.

Beaver drops his toothpicks that he has the habit of chewing, especially when stressed.  He reaches down to grab them, and this proves to be a fatal mistake.  The creature escapes from the toilet, and immediately attacks Beaver.

Jonesy returns to the house and finds Beaver battling a creature resembling a parasite.  Beaver loses the battle when the creature attacks and kills him.  Jonesy tries to flee, but sees a creature that resembles an alien from a science fiction TV show standing in bathroom, along with the creature that killed Beaver.  Jonesy is then possessed by the alien-like creature, and is unable to escape.

In the meantime, Beaver’s surviving friends receive a telepathic signal that Beaver is now dead.  These friends include Duddits, who is still living with his mother in Derry, Maine, the boys’ childhood home.  Duddits is also terminally ill with leukemia, and is distressed to find out that his friend is now dead.

The story switches to the point of view of two military men, Owen Underhill and Abraham Kurtz.  Underhill and Kurtz’s unit has been dispatched to Maine to deal with the alien invasion.  We learn that “the grays” are telepathic, and transmit a sort of fungus, that when inhaled by humans, also makes humans telepathic, at least temporarily.  Underhill, Kurtz and the rest of the unit do battle with the aliens, even though the aliens claim to surrender.

Henry finally makes it back to Hole in the Wall.  There, he discovers the body of his friend Beaver, along with the parasite-like creature that killed Beaver.  Henry is forced to battle the creature, which is still alive, and sets fire to the cabin to destroy the creature, along with the eggs it has laid.  While he is there, Henry somehow deduces that Pete is now dead (due to a battle with a similar creature) and that something has also happened to Jonesy.

After destroying the cabin, Henry heads back to the site of the vehicle accident.  There, he discovers the body of the woman who he almost hit earlier.  The woman also appears to have been attacked by the creature.  Henry notices that she is covered by a reddish gold fungus, but that the fungus appears to be dying.

Henry decides to attempt to walk back to civilization.  As he is walking, he again begins to think of his friend Duddits.  However, as he attempts to reach civilization, Henry is accosted by the soldiers that have been dispatched to handle the crisis in Maine.

We learn that the body of Jonesy has been possessed by one of the aliens, whom Jonesy thinks of as Mr. Gray.  Jonesy experiences a series of long flashbacks, which include the accident he suffered earlier that year, along with the time he spent in the hospital.  Jonesy is able to recover some memories:  he remembers that he thought that he saw Duddits that day, and that is why he was not paying attention when he crossed the street, along with the fact that he nearly died in the ambulance.  Somehow, Jonesy’s accident relates to why the alien creature is able to take over his body.  Mr. Gray is able to kidnap Pete, and force Pete to help him in his mission.

Henry arrives at the base that the military has set up.  Kurtz is in charge of the operation, but appears to be mentally unstable. Kurtz tells Underhill of the cover story he will spin in regards to the alien invasion, but really intends to kill all the civilians being held captive at the compound, along with Underhill.

Jonesy, whose body has been stolen by Mr. Gray, steals a vehicle from an unsuspecting driver.  Mr. Gray forces the driver to stab himself in the eye, even though he has already hijacked the man’s vehicle.  Jonesy attempts to hide all of his memories of Derry and Duddits from Mr. Gray, as he suspects that the alien has a dangerous plan involving Derry.

Jonesy also recalls another incident from his childhood.  Shortly after meeting Duddits, Jonesy and the rest of his friends make their first trip to Hole in the Wall, where they accompany Beaver’s father on a hunting expedition.  One night, all four boys have the same disturbing dream:  they dream that Richie Grenedeau has died in a car accident, and that they were responsible for the death.  When the boys awaken, they try to convince themselves it was just a dream, but they are not successful. The boys place a telephone call to Duddits, who is also distressed because he experienced the same dream, which has actually come true.  Even then, Jonesy and his friends realize that Duddits has somehow gifted them with the powers of telepathy.

Henry is able to pull Underhill aside, and tells Underhill that Kurtz has something sinister in mind, and begs Underhill to help him and the other civilians.  Henry explains to Underhill that the aliens have passed on an organism known as “byrus”, and that there are different strains of the byrus.  The worst strain is the one that afflicted McCarthy and his friend Becky, which is the case of symbiosis gone wrong.  However, most strains of byrus are harmless, although they do result in the carrier experiencing low-grade telepathy.  Henry tells Underhill that he is different, due to his childhood experiences, but that Jonesy is the most different of all four of them, and that is what poses a potential threat.  Finally, Underhill agrees to help Henry, so that that Jonesy may be rescued from whatever has taken over his body.

Jonesy continues to struggle for control over his body from Mr. Gray.  Finally, he comes to a sort of compromise with Mr. Gray and agrees to help him.  Jonesy realizes that Mr. Gray has stolen another truck which contains a passenger:  a dog infected with the byrus.

Back in Derry, Duddits has also sensed the death of his friend Pete, which upsets him.  However, the next morning, Duddits’ mother Roberta finds him dressed, and demanding his old lunchbox, as if he is awaiting the arrival of his friends, as he had in the days of his childhood.

Henry and Underhill use their telepathic powers to awaken the other civilians, who are asleep in a barn that is part of a makeshift military base.  They warn the other civilians of what Kurtz intends to do, and the civilians rebel against Kurtz and his soldiers.  Some are killed, but some are able to escape.  Henry and Underhill also escape, and head to Derry to meet up with Duddits, who can help them rescue Jonesy.

Underhill and Henry continue on their journey to Derry, stealing a vehicle from some young men.  Henry recalls another incidence from his childhood, when he and his friends were able to find a missing girl, with the help of Duddits.  Henry realizes that Duddits’ is a dreamcatcher of sorts, due to his telepathic abilities.

Henry then receives a telepathic communication from Jonesy.  Jonesy is frightened, and warns Henry that Mr. Gray has something dangerous planned.  Henry further realizes that Jonesy’s brain is different due to his accident and near death experience, which has allowed Mr. Gray to take over his body.  Mr. Gray continues to behave erratically, murdering a state trooper.

Kurtz has discovered that Underhill is AWOL, and begins to look for him.  Kurtz contacts Underhill on the radio to attempt to persuade him to abandon his mission with Henry, but Underhill refuses.

With the help of Duddits, Jonesy is able to trick Mr. Gray into consuming raw bacon, which makes him ill, buying more time for Henry, Underhill and Duddits.  Mr. Gray continues his journey to Boston, where he plans on unleashing the byrus into the water supply, by using the infected dog as a vessel.

Eventually, Mr. Gray abandons the vehicle he is driving, and attempts to use the dog to contaminate the water supply in Boston.  However, with the help of Duddits and Henry, Mr. Gray is defeated, and Jonesy is in possession of his body again.  Duddits pays dearly for his efforts, dying shortly afterwards.  Before he dies, Duddits tells Henry that he loves him.

In the meantime, Underhill shoots the weasel-like creature that emerges from the dog, killing it.  Underhill is then shot by Kurtz, who has caught up to Henry and his friends.  Henry then defeats the Kurtz and the remaining soldiers, rescuing Jonesy from certain death.

Several months later, Henry is visiting Jonesy at Jonesy’s summer cottage.  Both men have recovered from their ordeal, physically at least.  Duddits’ mother grieves the loss of her son but has moved on with her life.  The men muse about their experience, even though they feel lucky to have survived it, along with wondering when the planet will again be visited by extraterrestrial beings.


My Thoughts

Ok, let me get one thing out of my system…

Actually, I probably don’t want to get this one one thing out of my system, since that means certain death, along with the WORST FLATULENCE EVER!

byrus

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am referring to the shit weasels.

(In case you can’t tell, I had to work the “shit weasels” into the title of this review.  It just wouldn’t be right other wise.  You’re welcome!)

Shit weasels.  How much more eloquent can you get?  Where on Earth (or is it in Hell?) does The Master come with up with this stuff?

King has said that he is not too proud to go for the gross out.  And we are reminded this in Dreamcatcher.  Again and again, we are reminded.

While I am not that much of a fan of the gross-out in the horror story, it does have its place.  Mostly, the gross out is funny.  And Dreamcatcher is also a book with a lot of funny.

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And the shit weasels are just one of the funny things in Dreamcatcher.  I know that King was on LOTS of drugs when he wrote this one (more on that later), so often I wonder if one of the side effects of those drugs were “Caution:  taking this and writing a novel about aliens will likely make the user write about farts, burps and other bodily functions not discussed in polite society?”

Speaking of funny, let’s talk about the Beave for a moment…

Beaver isn’t described as being particularly attractive, at least in the physical sense.  But when I evaluate my book boyfriends, I try not to be so superficial, you know?  Otherwise, I might miss out on a really great romance!

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Yes, Beaver is the man in this book.  He is killed off pretty quickly, but still manages to make quite the impression.

First off, Beaver is funny.  Any book boyfriend of mine must have a sense of humor.  That is a prerequisite for all of my literary relationships, no exceptions.

And Beaver does have quite the sense of humor.  And he’s not afraid to sprinkle a copious  a fair amount of profanity to get his point across.  “Kiss my bender.”  “Fuck me Freddy.”  “Fuck-a-row.”  “Fuck-a-ree.”  All Beaver-isms.  And I unabashedly use them as part of my vocabulary.  After all, there is nothing like a good swear fest, Beaver style, after a frustrating day at work.  Or sitting in traffic.  Or standing in line at a crowded restaurant.  Or sitting.  Or standing…well, you get the point!

But perhaps, most importantly, Beaver has a good heart.  There was truly a beautiful soul behind the glasses and the potty mouth that would make a drunk sailor blush.  He stood up for someone who was helpless and being bullied.  And he comforted that someone by singing him a lullaby…swoon!

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I think that’s when Beaver had my heart: after he rescued Duddits (with the help of his friends) and sung to him.  And “fit neek” (fixed Duddie’s sneaker, in case your Duddits-to-English dictionary is not working.)

My only complaint about Beaver is that he left so fast…damn you, errant toothpicks and shit weasels that can’t stay in the toilet like a good shit weasel!

I also loved the not so subtle jab at Dubbya, aka Okefenokee.  The description of Okefenokee and his actions after the alien invasion of Maine was eerily similar to what happened right after 9/11.  I know that this book was written before the 9/11 tragedy, but The Master’s description of The Leader (well, the leader at time, anyway) was so close to what happened after 9/11, it made me wonder if all those painkillers had perhaps given him some kind of clairvoyance…hey, anything is possible, right?

As stated before, Dreamcatcher was the first book that King wrote after his vehicle accident.

And it shows…

Not that this a bad thing.  Dreamcatcher is still an enjoyable book.  But, it gets a bit un-wieldly in spots.  It’s almost as if the painkillers took over in those spots.  And the painkillers do not have an eighth of the talent possessed by The Master!

Quality: Original. Film Title: Dreamcatcher (2003). Pictured: (L to R) DAMIAN LEWIS, THOMAS JANE, TIMOTHY OLYPHANT and JASON LEE in Castle Rock Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' science fiction/horror film Dreamcatcher distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures 2002. For further information: please contact The Warner Bros. Press Office on 020 7984 5000.

I did think that this book dragged at parts, especially in the “present day” setting.  And the ending was a bit anti-climactic.  Really, the best the alien could come up with was to use a dog to contaminate the water supply?  And that alien seems like he kind of sucked at being an alien, since Jonesy and Henry were able to defeat it so quickly, practically with their eyes closed…

However, this book was saved by the good parts.  One of these parts was the flashbacks to the boys’ childhood.

I loved the description of the friendship between the four (later to be five boys).  The way King described, I felt like I was right there, in the thick of it.  Even the mundane details, like how the boys get out of school one fateful afternoon, and are eager to catch a glimpse of *a kitty cat*, aka female nether regions.  That made me laugh, and it brought me back to my own childhood, when things seemed to be so much simpler.

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Speaking of nostalgia, part of Dreamcatcher is set in Derry.

Yes, that would be the same Derry that boasts a homicidal clown as a tourist attraction.  The same Derry where a bad ass man named Ralph Roberts saved the universe single handed-ly, but did not even receive a lousy t-shirt.  That Derry!

I loved how King was able to work in elements of his books set in Derry (It, mainly) but was still able to tell an entirely new story.

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Dreamcatcher and It are similar tales, at least on the surface:  both deal with friendship, small towns and bullying.  However, that is about all the two books have in common.  In one, the friendship is formed because an outside force uses the children (and later the adults) to defeat an evil monster.  In the other, the friends are drawn together first, because they have common interests and so forth, and then later used to defeat evil (Richie Grenedeau as children, alien invaders as adults.)  In Dreamcatcher, the friendship really is lifelong, unlike in It, where the friendship is so brief and only serves the purpose of defeating Pennywise the Clown.

In Dreamcatcher, the threat of Pennywise the Clown never really seems to be far away. Henry and his friends may not have had the misfortune of being children during one of the “cycles”, but Pennywise and the town of Derry were a constant presence in this book.  I loved the references to the missing children in Derry, and how it was a bigger problem in Derry than most other places.  I also loved Jonesy’s recollection of the big storm in 1985.  As any King fan knows, that was the year that the Losers Club laid waste to Pennywise (maybe.)  It was such a funny feeling to get the perspective of someone who was not involved in that battle, but was still a part of Derry.

Oh, and “Pennywise Lives.”  Did anyone else shudder when Jonesy found that graffiti, or was that just me?  Someone in Derry has a sick sense of humor!  Or there is the alternative:  Pennywise really does live!  Both of these are pretty scary, actually.

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And before I wrap this review up, let’s give someone his due…

Yes, that someone would be Duddits.  And I cannot give enough accolades to poor Duddits.

There was so much to love about Duddits in this book.

First of all, there was Duddits himself.  I have a friend who refer’s to those with Down’s Syndrome as beautiful souls, and she could not be more right in that statement.  Like Henry, Jonesy, Pete and Beaver, I felt that all was right in the world when Duddits showed up on the page.  How could anyone not be happy when he/she was in the presence of Duddits?  Just reading about Duddits made my day much better.

It is no secret that King writes about man’s inhumanity to man.  Books such as It, Under the Dome, Hearts in Atlantis and even the Dark Tower series are filled with examples of this.

Rennie

So, the uninitiated may be surprised to learn that King is equally adept at writing about the opposite: his characters can also treat each other wonderfully, and go above and beyond in the name love and friendship.

Duddits and his friendship with Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete is a prime example of King’s ability to write about the good that some are capable of.

Very early on in the book, we get a glimpse of a good deed:  four adolescent boys do an extremely brave thing and stand up to the neighborhood bully on behalf of someone who appears to be much weaker.  This is not something we would think of most adolescents as capable of, not even Henry and his friends.  After all, before the encounter with Richie Grenedeau, Henry and his friends are focused on viewing certain parts of the female anatomy, not confronting a bully who turns out to be a coward.  But just like that, the tone of the story changes, and I knew that these guys were something special.

And I was right:  all five were something special.  The boys continue their friendship with Duddits.  In junior high and high school, all that matters to most is fitting in and peer acceptance.  However, the friendship with Duddits transcends those barriers, and enriches the life of Duddits, who experiences something he was previously lacking in his life:  acceptance.  Henry, Beaver, Pete and Jonesy all have their lives enriched by the friendship with Duddits as well, referring to Duddits as their “finest hour.”  Their friendship with Duddits is the glue that holds them together even into adulthood, when most childhood friendships slowly fade away.

Even in adulthood, Duddits is still…well, Duddits.  The others grew up and moved on, but Duddits remained a child.  However, Henry is able to pick up right where he left off, so to speak, and the old bond is renewed.  In fact, Duddits is overjoyed to reunite with Henry and have one last adventure with him, while Henry is overcome with guilt for not staying in touch.  But that doesn’t matter to Duddits, as Duddits does not think in those terms and seems to be incapable of anger or resentment.

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Duddits is truly the hero of the book.  He makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to help his friends one last time.  He saves the lives of his friends Jonesy and Henry, along with (potentially) the lives of thousands of others.  And there is no resentment or anger.  Only love.  After all, that is what drives a hero:  love.


So that’s it for Dreamcatcher.  Join me next month as we take a trip next door…well, maybe not literally next door, but to a world nearby on The Tower when I review and dissect The Eyes of the Dragon!

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


Connections

Like all of King’s books, Dreamcatcher is set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections I noticed:

-The most obvious connection is the fact that Dreamcatcher is set in the town of Derry.  Derry is central to several King novels, including It, Bag of Bones, 11/22/63 and Insomnia.

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-Jonesy finds graffiti on a statue stating “Pennywise lives.”  Pennywise the Clown was the monster faced by the Losers Club in the novel It, and was supposedly defeated in 1985.

derry connection

-The storm of 1985 is mentioned.  This storm took place when the Losers Club faced the monster It in final battle.

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-Jonesey’s mind trick to escape Mr. Gray after Mr. Gray takes over his body is somewhat similar to Susannah’s method of dealing with the entity Mia in The Song of Susannah.

Song of Susannah 1

-Duddits possesses PSI abilities.  Several novels and short stories deal with this topic and contain characters who possess these abilities, including Carrie, Low Men in Yellow Coats (of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Everything’s Eventual (part of a collection of the same name), Firestarter and the Dark Tower series.

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-A sign is seen for the town of Jerusalem’s Lot.  This is the location for the novel ‘Salem’s Lot.

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Shawshank State Prison is mentioned.  This is the main setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which is part of the collection Different Seasons.

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-Duddits is somewhat similar to the characters Tom Cullen (The Stand) and Sheemie (Wizard and Glass), in that he suffers from a mental “handicap” but also possesses extraordinary abilities.

Nick

Dreamcatcher is not the only novel featuring extraterrestrial visitors.  Tommyknockers and Under the Dome also deal with this topic.

tommyknockers